Finding Balance With Florist

Emily Sprague talks about her new solo album and shares "Time Is A Dark Feeling"

“Where do you go when you just wanna go? Where do you go when you let it all go?” Emily Sprague asks on a song from Florist’s third album, which was written as an escape — from life’s external pressures, from the constant buzzing inside your own mind. It’s an album that’s constantly looking for answers, for a headspace where it feels like everything will click into place. It’s an elusive search, but the quiet folk songs that Sprague makes offer room for calm contemplation.

Each Florist album has had diaristic elements. Their first, The Birds Outside Sang, was partially self-recorded by Sprague in her bedroom after a bicycle accident that left her incapacitated; the closing track on their second album, If Blue Could Be Happiness, was a raw demo of a song that Sprague sent to her mom just a few days before she died. Emily Alone feels like the project’s most personal yet.

Recorded alone during a few days last winter, the album is sparse and intimate — day-to-day meditations on what it means to be by yourself, what it sounds like in the metaphysical dark place inside your mind. “I write and I read, I spend time in the sea/ But nothing brings clarity to what makes me me,” Sprague sings on its opening track, which builds to a personal address: “Emily, just know that you’re not as alone as you feel in the dark.”

On the album’s new single, “Time Is A Dark Feeling,” Sprague makes that search for self-reflection feel like a journey across distant lands. “I could have the reasons why/ These are days like the deepest caves/ You would never descend into,” she sings. “Truthfully, silence never did it for me/ Oak tree, remember me/ Thankfully, there’s a golden portrait of ivy/ Every morning I see.”

“‘Time Is A Dark Feeling” is about looking at the ways in which we construct time,” Sprague explains. “I don’t think that time really exists at all, but obviously in our reality, in our lives, we have a very rigid construct of time our whole lives. It’s something we have to exist within for the most part, but I think it’s really interesting to look at time and pick apart moments and memory and reflect on how that becomes a part of anyone’s consciousness. The things we remember, the fragments of life that make us who we are — it’s not about time anymore, it’s just about feeling.”

Listen to “Time Is A Dark Feeling” and read an interview with Sprague below.

STEREOGUM: Why did you end moving to Los Angeles?

EMILY SPRAGUE: I was living in upstate New York after we finished If Blue Could Be Happiness, and that year was the year that my mom passed away and that I ended a pretty serious relationship that I was in. It felt like life just started unraveling in a very specific way. I knew that I always really wanted to live in California from touring there, and I knew I had a good handful of friends out there, and it just felt like the right time. Like I needed to go somewhere drastically different to discover new parts of myself.

STEREOGUM: A lot of the album is about surrounding yourself in a different environment from what you’re used to. How did changing what’s around you help you to figure things out?

SPRAGUE: I think location is a huge part of what input you’re getting into your brain. I think it was less about physically being in a different place and more what the different place represented. When I moved to California, my lifestyle changed a lot. I started surfing, and that became a huge part of my life. I started doing a lot more ambient music, being with different friends within that group … Really, being out in the sun more — it changes a lot.

But I was also incredibly depressed for the first six months to a year that I lived there. Writing the album was the thing that finally was the culmination of all those feelings, the thing that finally released it all. I lost my mom, who was my best friend, and I lost this relationship that was a huge source of stability that I leaned on a lot. When those two things were gone, it felt like the structures that I had in my life for the last five years all just came crumbling down.

I found myself in this completely new place where I just felt like the only way to survive was to find the power within myself. There’s a saying, in I guess psychology, about having a sense of self and that being the source of how you can build healthy relationships. “You’re the only one who will never leave you.” That was one of the core ideas of all of these songs. I wanted to explore this sense of loneliness, and really find out what’s strong about that and what’s beautiful about that and create that same stability that I had from these external relationships within myself.

Obviously, the lead-up to those feelings and realizations is incredibly hard. The album is definitely meant to be listened to within this void of the self, or within a void of the mind. It’s like if you were to go into somebody’s brain and really just be the only thing in there — it’s about that sense of self.

STEREOGUM: Is that why you decided to record the whole album by yourself?

SPRAGUE: I was writing all of these songs about this specific journey that I was on, and I had been living in LA for a year and my experience there was alone in a lot of ways. Basically, what was going to happen was we were going to record in January in Los Angeles, but, logistically, it just wasn’t going to work out. Everybody wasn’t going to be able to do it, it was the wrong time for everyone. I was sort of in this intense flow state of writing, and all of the things that I was writing felt very isolated from the rest of the band. They’re produced the way that they are because I wanted them to be very obviously just Emily — this is just the songwriter of this project recording these things and it’s really about the songs and the lyrics and the feeling of listening to the album and getting very sucked into the same vacuum, a sort of isolated feeling.

It became the concept of the album — that it was part of the timeline of Florist, because the way it exists is because of the band, and because that’s a part of the whole narrative: We couldn’t be together because of life. I moved to LA because of everything that was happening in my life. Recording it alone was a hard decision because I didn’t want it to come off as it seeming like Florist is only me, because it’s really not. That’s why the album is called Emily Alone because it’s meant to indicate that it’s a solo album within a band. It’s using the same moniker, but it’s really like a solo album.

We’re recording a new Florist album right now, actually, upstate, and it’s very much Florist the whole band. It’s very collaborative, and it’s very much the follow-up to this totally stripped-down, just me thing. It feels really exciting, and I think it’ll be a nice contrast to show what the collaboration of Florist is and what power can be when we’re all together. It’s greater than the sum of its parts.

STEREOGUM: How does the ambient work that you’ve been doing fit into this? Were you keeping that in mind when pursuing this more solitary album?

SPRAGUE: I started doing the ambient music because I really felt like I needed another musical outlet separate from Florist. I made those two albums, Water Memory and Mount Vision, and at that point the ambient project started to become less of a hobby and more a part of my whole music career. Now I play shows with that and get work from that, but while all of it was happening, almost the opposite thing happened where I felt like all I wanted to do was play an acoustic guitar and write Florist songs again.

I have intense dualities about me and, in a lot of ways, I need both extremes to feed each other and to balance each other out. I think the ambient music is a necessary part of balancing out the folk songs and vice versa. Doing that for most of last year and ending the year starting the Florist cycle was really important for each musical project influencing the other. All of us in Florist have always used synths and made a lot of instrumentals and textural sounds. I think a big part of why I wanted to make ambient music was because I wanted to make those sounds without the words, without that song structure placed on top of some of the ambient music we were already making.

STEREOGUM: A lot of the album is about finding that balance in life. What does being content feel like to you? When are you the happiest?

SPRAGUE: I find myself the most content with life when I know that I’m on the journey, if you want to call it that. I feel like there are a lot of different things that happen in life and a lot of ways in which we can really forget how to be in touch with truth in our bodies and our minds. It’s not always easy to come back to that. Life is just a constant ebb-and-flow — there is no forever happiness or forever peace, because that’s just not the way the world works. It’s not the way the universe works. You have to have light and dark, you have to have pain to feel joy. Any time that balance is too far-leaning in one direction, I start to get nervous.

I think that I’m the most content with life when I’m totally relinquishing control over those things. When you’re going through something really hard, just feeling those feelings and not trying to fight it is, I think, what can give you the most insight into where you can see the beauty out of that darkness. That’s a huge part of what the album is about: Closing your eyes and seeing that huge void in your mind and instead of looking away, just staring directly at it.

07/26 Los Angeles, CA @ Pico-Union Project
07/27 San Francisco, CA @ Cafe Du Nord
07/29 Portland, OR @ Lola’s Room (Crystal Ballroom)
07/30 Seattle, WA @ Fremont Abbey Arts Center
08/03 Brooklyn, NY @ Baby’s All Right
08/05 Cambridge, MA @ The Great Scott
08/06 Burlington, VT @ Arts Riot
08/08 Troy, NY @ The Church
08/10 Ft. Wayne, IN @ B-Side (One Lucky Guitar)
08/11 Chicago, IL @ Schuba’s
08/12 Columbus, OH @ Ace of Cups
08/13 Allentown, PA @ Soft Machine Gallery
08/14 Philadelphia, PA @ PhilaMOCA
08/15 Washington, DC @ Songbyrd
08/16 Richmond, VA @ Gallery 5
08/17 Durham, NC @ The Pinhook
08/19 Atlanta, GA @ 529

Emily Alone is out 7/26 via Double Double Whammy. Pre-order it here.